Standard Disclaimers Apply

CERISE

By Cassandra's Destiny

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As he walked past the nurses' desk, the staff in attendance only nodded to him in acknowledgment. He had been to the hospital enough times to know his way around the halls. In fact, he had been in its rooms, fighting with death, for more times than he cared to remember. All those times, he had won, obviously. Unfortunately, he cannot say the same for everyone who has been confined within the hospital walls.

He imagined Gai's death to be quiet. He would not die of old age. No, he was too much a man of action to meet his end that way. He cannot, however, picture him dying a swift death on the battlefield either.

It would be eight day since they returned from their A-rank mission in Suna, six days since the reassembled members of Team Gai have been discharged from the hospital and have been issued a clean bill of health, five days since Gai treated them to dinner to celebrate his successful operation, and two days since they learned that said operation was not as successful as they thought, as Gai was suffering some fatal post-operative complications.

Aside from experiencing severe pain, Tsunade would explain to them, he would lose his ability to walk, and eventually lose his ability to do anything else. Being a medic-nin, she would offer him an alternative to simply waiting for the worst to happen – a surgical procedure that would attempt to restore his health, or at least, to prevent him from losing his ability to function as a human being. It was a dangerous operation, Tsunade would warn, and there would only be a one in three chance of it being a success.

A one in three chance may not be much, but it was better than nothing. "Besides," Gai would add, "I'm good at games where I only have a one in three chance of winning, like rock, paper, scissors with Kakashi." He would then let out such a boisterous laugh, that they would almost be convinced by his touch guy act. The pained look on his face, however, would make it clear that even laughing was causing him pain.

Lee would match the loudness of Gai's laugh with the loudness of his cries, but he would nevertheless pump his fist in the air and cheer for the man he had always looked up to.

Tenten would close her eyes and let out a long sigh – a combination he was yet to decipher the exact meaning of. After a few moments of silence, she would put her hand on Gai's shoulder and say to him: "stay strong". He would appreciate that she did not blatantly lie to him by saying things like "you're going to get through this" or "you're going to beat the odds".

He would say nothing, of course, but in his mind, he would be replaying Gai's comment about being good at rock, paper, scissors, and then go thinking of all the times he had lost to Kakashi in that game. He would catch himself before a frown forms on his lips, and for once, believe their former mentor when he says he's good at games where he only had a one in three chance of winning.

Before entering the operating room, Gai would tell them not to worry, and go as far back down memory lane as to remind them of the operation Lee underwent after their first Chuunin exams. "He did not stand much of a chance then, either, but he survived" he would say, "so I would too."

A day later, they would find out he wouldn't.

.

He imagined Lee's death to be a big affair. It would be the opposite of Gai's in that it would be loud and quick, and none of them would have the chance to pump their fists in the air to cheer him on, or to put their hands on his shoulder to tell him to stay strong.

Lee was, by no stretch of the imagination, as weak as Neji used to make him out to be. He was strong, but he has always been a bit careless. He could die while saving a squirrel. He could die while trying to talk a man out of a crime he plans to commit. His carelessness, however, he could not imagine him dying from.

He would be in the middle of a mission. Lee would die a hero's death, taking a blow on the stomach from the enemy, and falling on his back to his death. It was the kind of death everyone would remember, the kind of death that even after ten years, people would still be talking about. The death of the once talentless Taijutsu user would be remembered as the death of one of Konoha's heroes.

.

He imagined Tenten's death to come as a surprise. He hasn't decided yet if it would come as a surprise for everyone or just for him. What he has decided on, however, was that it would not come as a surprise for Tenten.

She would go with them to missions – retrieve treasures, battle criminals, and even distract war lords. She would carry on with her life as she always had, and none of them would suspect a thing. None of them would suspect that she was dying.

Unlike Gai, he could not imagine her dying in the hospital. She has always hated the anxiety she felt whenever she stepped foot inside one, whether it was to have herself checked in or to just visit a team mate. Unlike Lee, he could not imagine her dying on the battlefield either. While he knew she was more than willing to die fighting for what she believes in, he also knew she would hate the fanfare that would come soon after.

He imagined himself to be the one to find her, lying on the floor of their room. He would check for her pulse and find nothing. He would search around for signs of a break in and find nothing. He would dig deep in the corners of his mind for any clue and find nothing.

She would die on the floor of their room, and he would be left wondering when things started to go wrong.

.

As he stood in the corner of the hospital room, he heard someone ask him how he was feeling. He wasn't sure if it was Gai or Lee who did, but the question jolted him.

The circumstances he imagined for the death of those closest to him notwithstanding, there were three things he never imagined.

The first was that never in his imagination did he take a moment to consider how he would feel when he finds out Gai's operation was unsuccessful, when he watches Lee fall to his death, or when he sees Tenten's dead body an arm stretch away from their marital bed.

The second was that while he hasn't decided yet if Tenten's death would come as a surprise for everyone or just for him (with either of the two leading to different possibilities), never in his imagination did he take a moment to consider Tenten's death to look like this, with her on a hospital bed, taking her last breath only hours after her miscarriage. To be honest, though, he did not imagine her life to be like this from now on, either, with a faraway look in her eyes that he knew meant she was blaming herself for the death of their first child.

He walked closer to her bed and held her hand. She was alive, but with the way she squeezed his hand, he knew it was not just his imagination that she looked like she wanted to die. "It should have been me," he imagined her thinking.

His heart ached, and the third thing he never imagined before became clear in his mind. He had taken many moments to consider how Gai, Lee, and Tenten would die. Not once, however, did he take a moment to consider how he would.

"It should have been me," he wanted to tell their child. "I could have imagined so many ways where I would die so that you wouldn't."